Jerricho Cotchery had herniated disk

It was an out-of-character season for the sure-handed Jerricho Cotchery, who dropped a team-high eight passes -- and now we know why.

Unbeknownst to the public, the New York Jets' veteran wide receiver played with a painful herniated disk throughout the season and underwent back surgery Feb. 3, Cotchery told ESPNNewYork.com Wednesday.

The procedure was a microdiscectomy. Cotchery said doctors "shaved off" the piece of the disc that was pressing against a nerve. He said the condition worsened in October, causing shooting pain down his leg and into his foot. He decided to tough it out, waiting to address it until after the season. In retrospect, he wishes he had the surgery before the 2010 season.

"It wasn't a good feeling," Cotchery said. "It was pretty painful. I wouldn't want any football player to have to go through that."

Cotchery said his rehab is going well and he hopes to start running in three to four weeks. He's confident he'll be ready for training camp -- if there is a training camp.

Because of the lockout, Cotchery isn't permitted inside the Jets' facility, forcing him to rehab at a private facility in New Jersey.

"That's the toughest thing, not being around the people that know my body the best," he said. "I can't even talk to [the Jets' trainers], that's the crazy part about it. I like the place I go to, but everything I need is in the Jets' facility."

Even though Cotchery is confident about a full recovery, his surgery adds more uncertainty to the up-in-air receiving corps. He's the Jets' only experienced wideout under contract. Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith are free agents.

General manager Mike Tannenbaum has said he's hoping to re-sign all three players, but that might be difficult. A lot will depend on the new collective bargaining agreement.

It was a difficult year for Cotchery, who lost his starting job to Holmes and missed two games with a partially torn groin.

In fact, he hurt his groin on one of the signature plays of the season. His groin popped while running a route against the Browns, but he hopped eight times to get open and made a diving catch. Some teammates called it one of the greatest plays they'd ever seen.

Cotchery finished with 41 receptions for 433 yards and two touchdowns. In the playoffs, he led the Jets with 12 catches, although he did have a drop against the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game.

His back was an issue last offseason, but he decided to hold off on surgery, hoping it would heal with rehab and exercise. It didn't. He said it didn't require daily treatment, but would flare up on a fairly regular basis. He played through it, risking permanent damage.

"You try to eliminate that thought, but it's in the back of your mind," he said. "Chances are, if you have a herniated disc, it's probably going to rupture at some point."

Cotchery is upbeat about his prognosis.

"My back is feeling good and I'm progressing really well," he said. "I can't wait to get back on the field."

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.